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E3 2015: Cyberith Virtualizer Hands-On

by: John -
More On: E3 2015 Virtualiizer

I've been interested in omni-directional treadmills and having tried out the Virtuix Omni, I was wondering how the Cyberith Virtualizer compared. Cyberith had three units on display to try out and I was fortunate enough to jump in.

The Virtualizer is a sturdy built omni-directional treadmill that consists of three parts. There are three vertical posts, a ring in the middle, and a flat base. All three have sensors in them that work in conjunction to detect movement, sitting, crouching, and jumping. It can work with both a PC and mobile devices like a GearVR. Built using steel and aluminum, it's made to take a lot of wear and tear and it's backed by a 2 year warranty. Correction, the dev kits being sold now don't have warranties, but the consumer edition will have a 2 year warranty. The current kits available are just dev kits. The consumer version will be out sometime in the future.

Cyberith went with a flat base as opposed to a bowl shape because that's the surface geometry that we mostly walk on in real life. It helps with the natural movement that the Virtualizer is trying to simulate.

The center ring that holds you in place links to the three polls where it senses your vertical position. There are vertical holes that you can put a pin in if you are getting used to the system so the ring doesn't move too much vertically. The holes go all the way down the posts so there's plenty of options in how far down you want the ring to be able to go. A nice aspect of this system is it can be used for medical use as the ring can support your weight and help in physical therapy. Say someone needs some help in walking, the pins can be placed where most of the weight is supported by the Virtualizer and then the person can receive therapy walking or running with the help of the Virtualizer.

You don't need special shoes, but wearing the slip on boots will help a lot. That's because it the shoes help ensure the right amount of friction between the base and your feet so you can walk freely. They are pretty light and easily slipped over my shoes.

Getting strapped into the ring, the belt system was comfortable, but that Cyberith had at the show was just something you can get off the shelf. They are working on their own custom system, but wasn't done in time to be on display. The ring felt very solid and I never had the feeling I was going to stumble or fall while using the Virtualizer. The ring and strap system does a good job at making you feel secure.

After getting setup, an Oculus Rift was placed over my head and I was put into an outdoor area. I walked down a path and into a cavern where I had to follow a blue path. If I didn't I fell to my death.

Like the Omni, it will take some time to get used to moving comfortably. I did stumble a lot with my time in the Virtualizer, but there were bouts where I walked pretty well. Sometimes the boots got "stuck" on the base, but I attribute that to me not being used to the system. You won't be able to just jump in and walk naturally, but it can happen with practice as evident by many of the staff at Cyberith demonstrating the system at the show.

Accuracy wise, it felt good but not great. I found myself staying in place a few times as I was walking and there were a few times it seemed it was going in the direction I was walking but off by a few degrees. For the most part though, the Virtualizer did a good job in convening my physical movements to the virtual world. I was able to walk slowly and did a small sprint to see myself speeding up in the tech demo.

I did like the de-coupled movement in the demo. I was able to turn my head left and right while walking forward and keeping my movement in the direction I was walking rather than where I was looking. It really added to the immersive experience compared to past experiences in other systems where it was limited to which way I was facing.

My time was short with the Virtualizer, but what I experienced showed a lot of promise. I bet if I had a lot more time to practice, it would feel really natural moving. I did like the flat base and the fact you don't need special shoes to be able to use it. The system is on pre-order for $1249, which is a pretty penny to drop. But, if Cyberith is able to deliver on its promise of natural, accurate movement, the Virtualizer could be THE setup to get if you want to go all out in a virtual reality experience.